On Sunday night, Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader and close ally of Vladimir Putin, posted a short video on his Instagram. The video featured Mikhail Kasyanov, the former Prime Minister of Russia and Chairman of the Parnas political party, together with Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Vice Chairman of Parnas.
The subtitles claim that the video was recorded in Strasbourg. We can see both politicians as if through the lens of a sniper rifle. Such an effect can be accomplished with the help of a filter for video processing.
The subtitles then state, “Kasyanov came for money for the Russian opposition.” And Kadyrov also adds “Who doesn’t understand, will understand.”
The same phrase was posted by Kadyrov on Kara-Murza’s Instagram on May 25, 2015 – one day prior to Kara-Murza being poisoned. He was hospitalized on May 26 and was placed in a medically induced coma. Later, after almost half a year of rehabilitation abroad, Kara-Murza came back to Russia and filed a complaint to the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation on the assassination attempt on his life. He attached the results of independent examinations proving he was poisoned.
On Monday, Instagram deleted the video after Russian activists forcefully complained to this social media site demanding removal of the video as “a concrete threat to cause physical harm.” Ramzan Kadyrov, in his turn, accused Instagram of violating his freedom of speech: “As soon as I said a few words about a chain dogs of the U.S., they immediately removed my post on Instagram. Here it is, a vaunted freedom of speech in an American way! You can write anything you want, but don’t touch those dogs of America, friends of State Department and Congress!” Kadyrov’s followers advised him in their comments to create his own social media, which won’t depend on the West.
According to Mikhail Kasyanov, he went to Strasbourg together with Kara-Murza and Zhanna Nemtsova, Boris Nemtsov’s daughter, to call for PACE to take control over Nemtsov’s murder investigation. Several Chechen ‘siloviki’ are defendants in this case while no one was named as the person who ordered Nemtsov’s assassination. Kasyanov attracted the attention of PACE members to Kadyrov’s threats: “The recent rally in Chechnya attests the intention to show the opposition that they are ready to deal with it. To show that we are all a target like Boris Nemtsov who was assassinated a year ago, and that such lists are prepared.”
After the release of Kadyrov’s Instagram video, Russian journalists made their own comments on social media in drawing parallels with Nemtsov’s murder, “it’s too much even for Kadyrov.” Others say with horror, “It’s definitely a voluntary admission of guilt!” of Nemtsov’s murder. Other activists stated with concern that “now ‘Kadyrovtsy’ has to kill somebody; otherwise it will be considered a bluff. The question is who?”
Ilya Yashin is receiving a lot of comments and messages on his social media accounts with his photo through the lens of a sniper rifle.
There is no reaction from the Russian authorities to Kadyrov’s escalating threats.
The West has also been silent, or perhaps stumped, about Kadyrov’s increasingly influence in the Kremlin. Russian opposition leaders and activists are used to reporters of the Russian state media harassing them, even abroad, abusing the West’s openness and freedom of expression laws. Later, they use these clips to produce documentaries on how opposition leaders “sell their motherland to the West.” They are also used to Russian security services following them. But this is a new phenomenon: surveillance by “Kadyrovtsy” – as Kadyrov’s henchmen are known.
Kadyrov’s surveillance reaches into Western Europe, and indeed a key center of EU activity, as the recent video shows. This could mean that Russian opposition leaders are no longer safe in the West and an assassination attempt on the US or European soil is not outside the realm of possibility. If such an event were to occur, Western governments would investigate, but Russia would never allow for Kadyrov’s extradition.
Denis Sokolov, a leading Russian specialist on North Caucasus explains Kadyrov’s actions as burning bridges. “If anyone else in Russia hopes to normalize relations with the United States and the European Union and to turn the country toward democratic modernization – let them leave this hope. This is the Kremlin’s signal, which is broadcasted with the help of the Chechen leader,” Sokolov said Sunday evening.
It is a sad time when a society reaches a point at which the remaining voices of opposition are blatantly threatened and such threats are ignored, or even worse, condoned, by the government. Putin’s silence on Kadyrov’s escalating threats sends a clear message to Russian citizens: your government will not protect you if you speak out, rather, it will encourage such threats with its silence.
Western leaders concerned with human rights in Russia and the rise of authoritarianism should speak out publically to condemn the Russian government for its silence. If they do nothing, then they join the club of silent endorsers.